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How Did You Become a Lover of Books and Reading? (Ron Vitale)

Ron Vitale

Ron Vitale, Author of “Cinderella’s Secret Diary”.

In today’s guest post, author Ron Vitale shares how he fell in love with the written word.  In “Cinderella’s Secret Diary: Lost” Ron writes about what happens after happily ever after.  You can visit his blog at www.ronvitale.com

Growing up, a friend of mine introduced me to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and taught me how to play Dungeons & Dragons. I devoured Tolkien’s trilogy and happened to be living at a fun time for fantasy literature. The Dragonlance series was all the rage and I spent many long hours reading through the books and then roleplaying my Dungeons & Dragons games using the modules to have my friends and brother go through the adventures.

Back in the mid-80s we had pencils, paper, dice and lots of imagination.

But none of this truly sparked my inspiration to loving and reading science fiction. I want to tell that story. I am known for my fantasy young adult books, but I have written some science fiction and am a big fan. Of course, these days, with limited time, I don’t get as much chance to read sci-fi as I would like. I focus reading more on the fantasy side of the fence since that’s more relevant to my writing.

Back when I was around 13 years old, a relative of mine gave me Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series for a birthday present. When I look back, I would say that those books and all the other Asimov books I read over the next decade marked a turning point for me. I loved fantasy, but science fiction opened new worlds (literally) to me. I have been a diehard Star Wars fan since the first movie came out, but Asimov’s work broadened my taste in reading and first introduced me to the actual man behind the books.

I read as much as I could get my hands on, falling in love with Asimov’s style, his easy going prose and his thought-provoking topics. His robot series are still one of my favorite books because of the moral complexities woven throughout the stories. Years before anyone really had thought about this, Asimov wrote about the effects of a robot society on people. How would we adapt to being mostly surrounded by robots? Would we become alienated from other people? Being a young teenager and reading Asimov’s stories caused me to question the effects technology would have on us as well as sparked great hope within me.

I dreamed of a future in which I could be a writer and that the science in the fiction that I read would one day become reality. But most importantly, Asimov’s books acted as a gateway. Through Asimov, I stumbled on Niven’s work (Ringworld and The Integral Trees stand out in my memory), Heinlein’s and Clarke’s. From there, I became a subscriber of Asimov’s monthly magazine and then Science Fiction & Fantasy.

I read, read and I read some more.

I love reading and as I matured and went to high school and then college my reading diversified. Professionally I had become an English major, focusing on the Romantics, but in my leisure time I would read fantasy and science fiction.

This all took place before Rowling’s Harry Potter and Meyer’s Twilight series. I have read The Washington Post article that cites that 25% of Americans haven’t read one book in a year. That disturbs me. With mobile devices and tablets great tools for unlocking millions of books, I do not understand why someone would not take advantage of this opportunity. How many games of Angry Birds can one play? With many indie authors as myself offering free or inexpensive books, the world has changed, and although the choices have become overwhelming, there are still more great books out there than I could ever read in a lifetime.

I look back and my love of books started from a simple decision: 

Someone gave me a book as a gift.

With the great diversity that is now available for such low costs, I would encourage people to give books or ebooks to people as gifts. When a new book comes out that I think my wife might like, I buy it on Amazon and it shows up on her Kindle Fire. How easy is that? To me, it’s about creativity, imagination and the solace that a book brings me from the stress and rush of the day-to-day world.

Read. If I could pass that message onto my kids and they were to listen, I’d be most satisfied that they would have a rich inner life. If you’re a reader, then spread the word: Give books to your family and friends. With many ebooks being under $3, that’s a great deal. Now I’m off. I have a date with A Discovery of Witches by Deborah E. Harkness and need to get going. But before I do go, could you do me a favor? Share your story in the comment section. How did you become a reader?


Ron Vitale is the author of the dark fantasy novel Cinderella’s Secret Diary who hopes that his daughter will grow up to find her own voice and not allow others to dictate who and what she can be.

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Guest review – A Swarming of Bees by Theresa Tomlinson

Well bibliophiles, Richard Abbott over at Kephrath is back with another guest review.  His book In a Milk and Honeyed Land was published by Trafford Publishing and is available on Amazon.  You can visit Richard’s website by clicking here.  As always, the Bookworm is happy to have Richard’s input!

I really liked A Swarming of Bees, by Theresa Tomlinson, and have no hesitation in awarding five stars. The subject matter, the presentation, the writing style: all of this came together just right for my taste. And it had a couple of maps, which always please me. These help the reader become oriented in the community of Whitby, called here by the Old English name of Streonshalh. For those who are not familiar with English geography, Whitby is on the east coast, in the modern county of Yorkshire, looking across the North Sea towards Scandinavia. Somewhat later than this story, it would be part of the Viking-dominated region called the Danelaw (as in The Bone Thief), but at this time it was in Northumbria, a large swathe of land ruled from Bamburgh.

Bamburgh Castle from the beach

The (Much Newer) Bamburgh Castle from the beach

The historical setting is in the immediate aftermath of the Synod of Whitby, in 664AD. This was a key moment in British Christianity when the fledgling native church, which had been isolated from Europe after the collapse of the Roman empire, was brought back under the authority of Roman Catholicism.

Now, many today might regret the loss to the church of the Celtic flavour of faith that this caused, but at the time, church unity was considered more important than insisting on an opinion. Individual Christian leaders might (and did) regret the loss, and expressed it by withdrawal to isolated communities, but there was no church schism resulting from this event.

Anyway, A Swarming of Bees has this event, and the resulting shakeup of church leadership, as part of the background. But for many of the individuals who are central, the choice is not between Roman and Celtic Christianity. Rather, it is between any sort of Christianity and their continuing allegiance to the older beliefs. The British Isles were – and in many ways still are today – a meeting place for many different styles of life and faith.

This intersection of culture, and the different ways people approach it, is at the heart of Theresa’s book. Abbess Hild, leader of the religious community, is willing and able to bridge the potential gap of religious experience in order to integrate the community rather than divide it. She is an inspirational figure, successfully threading the difficult line between compassion and compromise.

The plotline is basically a murder mystery, with the detective role played by the abbey herbalist Fridgyth. She personifies many of the tensions and insecurities of the age, and I found her an endearing character who it was easy to identify with. Along with that, the frequent references to, and recipes for, herbal and folk medicines give depth to her experience. Regarding the murder mystery, there are some echoes here of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, though the motives here reflect the turbulent political and social setting of the times, rather than the religious extremism that Eco likes to target. As such, the story, and the motives of the various protagonists, are much more accessible to a modern audience.

Mixed farming and moorland in the north of England

Mixed farming and moorland in the north of England

But the mystery is only part of the subject matter, and only part of the charm of this book. More prominent are the everyday difficulties and triumphs faced by the inhabitants of Whitby – both within and without the abbey walls. It is a time when plague ravages the land, leaving whole communities decimated, orphaned, and struggling in its aftermath.

This lends a sense of perspective to the grim events within the abbey – for many lay people living nearby, there are much more urgent survival challenges. In any age it is easy to interpret drastic events as divine commentary on momentous, perhaps questionable, decisions, and this era was no exception.

Theresa blends poetry in with her prose, faithfully mirroring the Old English alliterative style – I personally found this a great source of delight. It is a style which held sway in this country and elsewhere in Europe for a long time, before (many years later) being supplanted by the accentual and rhyme-dominated patterns which are much more familiar to many people. But in the world of Streonshalh, the traditional patterns of verse are alive and well, and used powerfully and beautifully by Caedmon and others to bridge the pre-Christian and Christian views of creation.

All in all, a very satisfying book to have read – and which I am sure I will re-read in a while. Five stars, definitely.

You can visit Richard’s website by clicking here.

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes (Guest Book Review by Anthony Carver aka Mr. Bookworm)

After months of nagging my husband to write a review or two for some of the books he reads, he finally relented.  He is considering this his warm up review before tackling A.T.H. Webber’s Erasure.  Hope you enjoy!

I know I’ve been promising my wonderful wife here that I would give her a book review. And because I’m good at getting things done in a timely manner, I’m finally getting around to it about three months later.

fallingkingdomsFalling Kingdoms is the first book in a series set in the land of Mytica. At the center of this land are the three kingdoms of Auranos, Paelsia, and Limeros. Auranos, to the north, is a fruitful land where everyone is prosperous, the king is kind, and everyone is blissfully ignorant. Limeros, to the south, is also apparently fruitful, everyone is not really mentioned as far as prosperity goes, the king is somewhat cruel and iron fisted, and the people are drilled into a sort of religious obedience. Paelsia, smack in the middle, is nearly barren, the chief (apparently, they don’t get a king) is a gluttonous shaman, and the souls of the people are almost as barren as their land is becoming.

The characters in the book are almost as one-dimensional and flat as the landscape. The king of Auranos, Cordullin, is kind hearted yet firm if need be, a family man, and naive. The King of Limeros, Gaius, is (surprise, surprise) the polar opposite of Cordullin. He is cold, somewhat tyrannical, and constantly vying for more power. Chief Basilius of Paelsia is content to live off of his people while they toil away in their vineyards, keeping them at bay by promises of magical abilities that he never shows them. But these are just the rulers and they spend a lot of time in the shadows.

The main characters are a little more developed, but not by much. Emilia, the oldest daughter of Cordullin, is meant to become the next ruler. However, she is sick and dying. Cleo, the younger daughter of Cordullin, is at least better than the usual trope of the spoiled princess. She is caring and often conflicted about her emotions. She is sweet. But for as much as she’s shown to be an enlightened young lady, she is prone to making rash, reckless decisions.

Jonas, the brother of a plot device murdered in the first chapter, is driven by revenge (shock) and a desire to kill all nobles and take their riches. Magnus and Lucia are the children of Gaius, and seem to have the most depth to their characters. Magnus, through most of the book, is trying to reject the role that his father is setting for him. The author goes out of her way to point out the “mask” that Magnus wears, except when around his sister. His sister, like Cleo, is shown to be very caring, even to her father, who is shown through much of the book to be very distant and harsh.

Of course, there are other characters, but many of them feel like nothing more than plot devices to further the progression of the story. Characters seem to just go along, until they are needed for something. Theon, Cleo’s bodyguard, is the best example of this. He is sworn to his duty, despite Cleo’s constant need to disobey and she is constantly running from him even after she knows her life is in danger. Theon chases her down, they admit their love for each other, and then he dies. Specifically in that order. Idea of bodyguard and princess, an idea that could have been used to such great ends, becomes an awkwardly narrated love triangle that ends in almost the same fashion as Cleo’s older sister, Emilia.

At the beginning of the book, Jonas’ brother, Tomas, quickly escalates a haggling between Cleo’s betrothed- (who exists almost solely as an excuse to force Cleo to want the bodyguard) and the wine seller father. Tomas enters the story, gets angry well beyond the excusable limit for a character that has just been introduced with no real story, and is murdered.

Forced plot advancement plagues this book. There is another part where Emilia tells Cleo, who prior to this has been repeatedly described as a non-believer in magic, about a legend of a witch in Paelsia with grape seeds infused with earth magic that can heal anyone. Cleo suddenly believes in magic and rushes off to the very land that houses the family of the plot device that she witnessed other plot device murder. This whole escapade comes to feel like nothing more than a reason for Cleo to get captured and add fuel to the political fire.

Another example is that King Gaius has another, illegitimate son. This son is portrayed as Gaius’ favorite and Magnus’ rival. No sooner than this looks as if it will flesh out character interplay between the king’s siblings, he is murdered as a blood sacrifice to Basilius, who at this point has not really been heard from and has had very little to do with the overall story.

I’m sure by now, you have noticed the occasional mention of magic. Magic–or elementia– is the crux of Lucia’s character, both in the prologue, and actual development, as well as being the reason Cleo does something stupid (once again, after she had been portrayed as a non-believer). The existence of magic is linked to the briefly, and extremely convolutedly, explained mythos of Mytica.

Magic, like some of the characters, only exists to justify the presence or actions of others. There are watchers (god-like beings) who take the form of hawks in the mortal world (they live in Sanctuary–seriously?), and are looking for the lost Kindred (these are some rocks, apparently).

There are a lot of ideas going on in this story. A lot of them can be good with a little fleshing out (magic and the watchers), and some of them had potential to be great: Magnus and Lucia’s relationship was on the road to being a mirror of Ceasare and Lucretia Borgia’s, and the anguish that Magnus felt over feelings that he knew were wrong added a depth to probably the best character in the book. However, this idea is derailed with certain revelations of parentage that bring Magnus around to be more of a budding imitation of his father.

About halfway through, I realized that the only reason I kept reading was that I wanted to see how much of a trainwreck this story would become. And then I thought that maybe I was being overly critical. After all, Falling Kingdoms is a Young Adult novel. That excuse, however, doesn’t hold up when presented with books like The Hunger Games or The Inheritance series. There are many authors of Young Adult fiction that manage to craft deep, interesting characters and that can weave a tale that leaves you wanting more. At the end of the day, I felt much like a Paelsian citizen: disgruntled and ready for a change.

Mr. Bookworm gives it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

NB:  Those of you familiar with the site, will know that we have a policy of not doing a review for a book if we find we are going to give it less than 3 stars.  I would like to further clarify that this is strictly for indie/small press authors.  Morgan Rhodes is far from indie/small press.  She’s has put out enough books to know better.  I trust the judgement of Mr. Bookworm and if this is the kind of quality that Penguin is looking for, then I am not surprised that they bought Author Solutions.

Mr. Bookworm has been dealing with Mrs. Bookworm for almost a decade now.  If you like heavy metal or beer, you might be interested in checking out his blog MoshnHops.

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The Bone Thief by V.M. Whitworth – (Guest Book Review by Richard Abbott)

Well bibliophiles, Richard Abbot over at Kephrath is back with another guest review.  His book In a Milk and Honeyed Land was published by Trafford Publishing and is available on Amazon.  You can visit Richard’s website by clicking here.  As always, the Bookworm is happy to have Richard’s input!

Let me first say that I really enjoyed this book and have no hesitation in awarding five stars. I had come across the title a little while ago, but was prompted to actually read it through a book club – and am extremely glad this happened!

In Wessex

In Wessex

The Bone Thief is set in tenth century England, at a time when there was no united kingdom but rather several different regions under separate leadership.

The region I know best, having lived in it for many years, is Wessex – in the south – whose capital at the time was Winchester.

The main character, Wulfgar, a junior but well-trained priest, grew up there. But the story really begins in Mercia, a great swathe of the west of the country stretching roughly from the Thames north through the Midlands.

And most of the central events take place in a Viking controlled region known as the Danelaw, covering much of the east of the country from London northwards to Leicester and York. Quite apart from the political difficulties this caused, it had a lasting impact on religious life, as it separated two major centres of Christianity from each other.

On the borders of Mercia

Whitworth captures this division of the land beautifully via use of dialect (still mostly alive today in regional British accents) together with the occasional use of specific Norse words and phrases.

This puts you as reader in the same place as Wulfgar – most of the text is readily understandable, some parts need a bit of puzzling out, and for some you have to deduce from context or the helpful explanations of other characters.

The main plotline is straightforward – Mercia needs religious relics to boost the residents’ flagging morale, and Wulfgar as a bright but rather timid cleric is chosen to find and retrieve something suitable.

But the outworking of this plot is fascinating, as Wulfgar is forced to continuously reassess who he can trust and who he cannot. The people he meets – both friend and foe – are memorable and compellingly drawn, and are instrumental in leading him to rethink his original rather naive view of the world.

Trust and faith are at the centre of this book. One of the many reasons I loved the book is that religious thought and feeling is treated realistically and sympathetically by Whitworth. Wulfgar and others struggle to live according to their ideals, in the midst of great challenges and difficulties. Often they fall to meet their own expectations. They are neither blindly literal nor cynically manipulative in their faith; rather, it shapes, constrains and illuminates their lives in creative and credible ways.

Wulfgar’s travels are actually over quite a small part of the land, but the story touches on the whole sweep of the British Isles and beyond. Key friends and enemies come from towns across much of southern and central England. One of Wulfgar’s travelling companions is from Ireland. Meetings with the Vikings bring in links with Scandinavia. And the relics themselves – of Saint Oswald – contain other historical echoes from the north. As a child Oswald fled from Scotland, and then grew up with the monks of Northumberland. He reigned as king from Bamburgh, and helped set up a Christian centre of learning on Lindisfarne – another region I am very fond of. Despite the seeming narrow sweep of Wufgar’s journeys, the future United Kingdom with all its multicultural diversity is already starting to emerge.

Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne

There were some stylistic features I did not like. In the first part of the book Whitworth uses a device of having sudden short paragraphs to arrest attention, which rather breaks up the reading experience.

But as the book gets properly under way this device is abandoned, and the text starts to flow in a smoother and more engaging way.

Quite why this irregularity was left after editing I am not sure, but once this habit is dropped the prose reads much more fluently and is less intrusive. A glossary and some historical notes round the work out nicely – the only missing feature is a map, but it is easy enough to find something suitable online if you are curious.

I would thoroughly recommend The Bone Thief to anyone keen to engage with this period of history, as seen through the eyes of an educated but rather unimportant figure. The major political and military events of the age – the formation of the Danelaw, for example, or its ultimate absorption into a whole nation, are hinted at in conversation, memory, or expectation, but are not described in depth. You will not find descriptions of great battles or Viking raids – you will walk alongside a person, and a nation, trying to find out how to live in a culturally diverse world poised on the brink of substantial change.

Five stars, without a doubt.

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Around the Web #5

Writer’s Links at No Wasted Ink

Helpful Author Site:

Wendy Van Camp over at No Wasted Ink always has interesting articles and this one  from the end of last month is particularly a gem.

I highly recommend all writers to check out the link for Making them Turn the Page for great advice about tension building as well as the opportunity for a critique of your first page.

And for laughs check out the lousy book covers.  I think my particular favorite was the cover for Wild Nevada Ride.

 

robertindianalove

 Love Springs Eternal

Recently I did a guest post on Omar M. Kiam’s blog of inspiration quotes and their meanings in which I tackle Alexander Pope’s:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast“.

The poet in my has always loved this sentiment.  The historian in me compared it to other great sayings about “hope”.  The cynic in me tried to rationalize it.  In this post, I combine all three in what I found to be an enjoyable little exercise.

I only hope that you enjoy even a fraction as much as I did writing it.  To view the post, click here.

Before You Hire an Editor!

Before You Hire An Editor by Kathleen Dale:

I read a lot of book reviews and more often than not, I come across a reviewer lamenting the lack of professional editing in an indie publication.  Heck, it is usually one of my main complaints.

In my opinion, this is where indie books suffer against professionally (Big 5) published books.  And often this suffering is needless.  

Sure, traditional publishers have tons of money to throw at editing a book.  But that doesn’t mean that indie authors can’t have well edited and formatted books.

Kathleen Dale, a fiction editor, provided a great infograph on whether or not you need a freelance editor.  She also provided great advice on how to get a great edit (whether you do it personally or you get someone else to do it) for your book/novel/novella.  Click on the graph to check out her page!

Follow us on twitter @ErinEymard and Google+.

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Undreamed Shores by Mark Hatton – (Guest Book Review by Richard Abbott)

The Bookworm is very excited to announce our first ever guest book review!  Richard Abbot over at Kephrath graciously agreed to do a guest review.  His book In a Milk and Honeyed Land was published by Trafford Publishing and is available on Amazon.  You can visit Richard’s website by clicking here.

Undreamed Shores, by Mark Hatton (Crooked Cat Publishing 2012) is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend to others.

Undreamed Shores cover imageUndreamed Shores is set at the start of the Bronze Age in northern Europe, somewhere between 4000 and 4500 years ago. It is fundamentally about exploration, on many different levels. Individual people, especially the central characters Amzai and Nanti, explore the spaces around themselves in many ways. As well as their physical space, they explore relational spaces ranging from intimacy and friendship to envy and hostility, through to the social spaces inhabited by different cultures and communities.

But along with that, the scattered groups of people inhabiting what we now call southern England and northern France, together with the islands in between, are starting to explore the lands and seas that separate them. Distances and gaps that seemed impossible to cross, except as legendary exploits by remote heroes, are becoming achievable. Above all, this story traces the way that love can bring about change at every level.

The results of this exploration are not always comfortable. This widening vision of the world gives intellectual and spiritual excitement to some people, but to others simply provides new groups of victims who can be dominated. Expanding horizons can lead to prejudice as well as understanding. This is a world where spontaneous fights based on short-lived personal aggression are starting to be replaced by organized violence initiated by a greedy few, calling out an answering response from settled communities and their leaders. War is coming.

However, war is not yet here, and those who prefer books about the deeds of great kings and their armies will not find them in these pages. Instead, what you will find is a sensitive and detailed description of a now-vanished society. The book is solidly rooted in archaeological knowledge and deduction, drawing on Mark’s academic career, without letting this wealth of background overwhelm the heart of the narrative.

The culture is introduced to us so vividly that I had to keep reminding myself that in fact these people have left us no written texts that might have been plumbed for Undreamed Shores, only artifacts scattered here and there together with the great stone circles, some of which originate from this era and some from later. I became thoroughly immersed in the account, and loved being drawn into this world. Indeed, I will never again be able to visit Abbotsbury, the Salisbury Plain, or the other places described, without having the sense that I am revisiting places that Amzai came to all those years ago.
Part of the Dorset coastline a few miles east of Abbotsbury
Part of the Dorset coastline a few miles east of Abbotsbury

Certainly my familiarity with some of the key locations helped a great deal, and gave an extra dimension to my reading. I did from time to time wonder how a reader would fare who did not know this part of the world. Much of the story would, of course, survive undiminshed, but I do feel that the addition of a simple sketch map would have enriched the book. A detailed modern map would have been inappropriate, but surely there would have been a place for a schematic one – not unlike the rough drawing which plays an important part of the plot.

On a purely technical level, there were a mere handful of typos – I noticed a few places where speech marks were omitted, and the occasional word was misspelled. But these slips were so rare in the text as a whole that they did not detract from my enjoyment.

I also thought that the ending was a little rushed. It was clear from fairly early in the story that a particular confrontation could not be avoided, and the reader’s memory is joggled about this numerous times as he or she reads on. Yet when it happens it is over rather quickly, and a different crisis is brought instead to the foreground. But that was also, to my mind at least, dealt with too quickly, and the book comes quite suddenly to its end. In part, my sense of disappointment here is one that readers will know well, where characters you have become deeply involved with are abruptly taken back into their own world, away from your own. That said, I still feel that a slower, more measured end would have better crowned such a careful and rich portrayal of personal and communal life in this era.

That said, the merits of the book far outweigh these minor reservations, and I have no hesitation in commending it to other readers.
Long Meg - a Bronze Age British stone circle from much further north
Long Meg – a Bronze Age British stone circle from much further north

I purchased it in kindle format from Amazon UK, but it is also available in paperback. Readers can buy it from any of the various Amazon stores, and also other retailers such as Barnes and Noble.